Science Fair Fun

Had to post. The kids did a great job on their projects, and each one was awarded first in their age division.
They really did the projects themselves, and their log books showed their work, so it was a very satisfying win. I had them both very prepared to walk away with nothing like last year. We were all surprised!calebfirstcalecfirstcu



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Snapshots From Our First Year of Homeschooling

Our family albums can be viewed in a slideshow format here: family favorites, our homeschool highlights, and some beauty shots of our gorgeous kids. Note to the grandparents, aunts, and uncles: You can order prints from the same site. (The site is better served using the Explorer browser.) Enjoy!

(I made this picture here — fun toys!)

Pretty as a picture

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Homeschooling Through a Kid’s Eyes

The House on Pooh Corner

I found this in a magazine “The Home Educating Family”

“Home Education Through the Eyes of a Child”
Author Unknown (liberally modified by me — DB)

• I can ask a question without feeling like I’m admitting that I’m stupid.

• I can use the bathroom without having to raise my hand, admit a bodily function to 30 people, and then be told, “No, not until the bell rings.”

• I can sit outside in my yard on a sunny, beautiful day and write an essay on the universe while seeing it rather than while staring at cinderblock walls, a chalkboard, and the backs of other kids’ heads. I can read as quickly or as slowly as I need, as long as I understand and and enjoy myself.

• I can say, “I’m having a bad day.” I can take a break, go get some fresh air, get a snack and play outside for a while, then go back and try again.

• If I feel sick, I can go upstairs and lie down in my own bed rather than throw up on my desk at school while waiting to be excused.

• I can see the pride in my parents’ eyes every time I learn something new because they are sitting right next to me.

• I enjoy learning about new things, and not because there’s a test coming up.

•I don’t always have to be told what to learn or where to find answers to my questions. I can look things up when I want to, and find answers without always having to ask; or if I do ask, we can find the answers together.

• I can respectfully disagree with my teacher, and I won’t get detention for having my own thoughts or changing the subject to something that interests me more.

• I am not required to sit still for long blocks of time. I can get up and do the Macarena if I feel like it and it is called “personality” and being a kid – no Ritalin required. I can wiggle while I work if I feel the need, as long as I am accomplishing my task.

• If I draw a cow and it looks like a duck, I am told I have a great imagination and will go places.

• If I want to, I can lay on my stomach on the floor, eat popcorn, and listen to Mozart while I do my spelling lessons.

• I do not have to know exactly what 30 other kids know at exactly the same time, in the same manner, at the same stages. I can grow in knowledge in my own way, my own time, when I am ready. I never get bored because as soon as I get it, we move on (except for the math drills — nothing’s perfect).

• My parents do not pretend to know everything. They say “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” They are real people who like to learn new things — just like me.

• I can read in the bathroom, in the car, on the floor, in the bathtub, in the tree house. And I do.

• I never get picked last in basketball nor will I have to shower in front of 15 other kids.

• I can learn my fractions by helping mom bake a cake or helping dad with the tools as he replaces a bad water pump in the car. When I drop something down the sink drain, it becomes a “learning opportunity” about plumbing (I have my own tools).

• If I or my parents get frustrated because our day isn’t going well, we can just start fresh the next day as I’m probably not going to learn much, and some days you’ve just got to expect that!

• If I mess up, my parents look for the things that were right as well, and then they help me by trying a new approach instead of the same way over and over.

• I don’t get bullied at recess and then get detention because I must have done something to provoke it.

• I don’t get A’s and F’s. I get a “Great Job!!” or “Good use of the word ‘antiquated’,” and sometimes I might get a “Try again,” …and that’s ok because second chances are really nice.

• I have the best teachers because they love me enough to teach me not only history and math, but also how to be a good person who never gives up when things get hard. I can follow their example instead of the examples of thirty other kids my age who also don’t know what they’re doing most of the time.

• They know that my failure to understand something means doing whatever it takes to help me get there. They don’t fly past me to get to the next lesson until I get the first. Making sure I understand is more important than the scheduled assignments posted near the dining room table.

• They realize that taking 1,500 pages of notes over the course of a year is NOT proof that I am educated.

• They have been allowed to teach me since birth and have done a great job.

• My parents realize I am a person. Though small, I have many ideas, questions, and needs, and I have a young and powerful spirit that can be crushed if they are careless with it. They know me well and they know how to build me up and make my world a wonderful place. I am safe. I am loved. I am worth all of the time and energy and expense that goes into educating a kid at home — and more.

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“Literature is dangerous…

On the porch with Dr. Seuss

— except when taken in large doses.”

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Been Busy

I’ve neglected my blog terribly. Blame it on my woeful time management skills. We’ve just about made it through the winter. Everyone said February would be the toughest time. Ditto for January. We really lightened up our daily schedule, but I think we’re slowly getting back on track. Both kids are reading all the time. I’d guess they average anywhere from 3-6 hours a day in reading alone, especially on those days when they’ve used up their 2-hours per week tv allotment. They’re still happy to let me guide their choices, so I’m thrilled to see them reading so many classics. Caleb likes realistic books with protagonists near his age or older (“No magic or wizards, or fairy- tale stuff, Mom. I want stuff than can happen.” Outwardly, I just shrug, “OK,” but inwardly I’m saying “Yay!”). Recently he’s read Bud, Not Buddy, Understood Betsy, and The Wheel on the School. If He really likes a novel, he’ll shut himself in his room and finish it in two days (like someone else I used to know). Today’s Saturday, so he picked up The Boy Who Spoke Dog this morning and finished it by lunchtime. Sarah’s reading about 5-10 books a day from the easy reader section of the library. Frances, Olivia, and Madeline are big favorites, but she’ll read anything I put in the library book crate. It’s been a joy to rediscover long forgotten books of my own early years. She still shies away from chapter books, though she’s read a few.  My thrill has been reading the William Steig books.  I think I’m much more taken with them than I was as a child.  They’re wonderful.  Sarah’s reading and re-reading them several times.  I really like Yellow and Pink.

Caleb won his little spelling bee contest for the third graders, thanks to the relaxed rules that allowed him to get second chance if he misspelled a word the first time. It’s sponsored by HEART. I was proud because of all the practice time he put into preparing for the bee.

Caleb and Sarah have each progressed to the next year’s level in math, but it’s pretty challenging for them. Sarah’s still an emerging reader, and some of the word problems are difficult for her. Caleb’s enjoying it for the most part. Daddy’s a pretty patient and thorough teacher.
We’ve been to the homeschool skating field trips three times now, and the kids are having a ball learning to skate, getting better each time. They’ve each made a new friend in addition to Sam and Rachel, their best buds. We’ve gone on a few other field trips as well, but I’ve really had to push myself to get out there. I’m such a hermit by nature.

One fun surprise is how much the kids love their Latin lessons! We’re using “English From the Roots Up” and it’s really an inspired technique. The kids learn one root a week as well as 5-8 derivations. It’s a bit of a guessing game: We learned photos means light, and tropos means turn, then I asked the kids what a phototropic plant is, and they discussed the possibilities before figuring out that it’s a plant that turns its leaves toward light. The other day Caleb was on the computer and read the word “biography”, recognizing graph in the middle. He called me over and we discussed how bio means life, and graph means to write, etc. It’s so much fun to watch them see how the puzzle pieces fit together. Language is fun.

Caleb woke up the other night very upset and sad. He misses his friends from school, so I’m going to make a more concerted effort to have friends over. Two boys came over for a few hours yesterday, and it was great to see him let loose ( a little too loose at times, but he is just 9). I hadn’t heard that kind of wild laughter in some time. They were on the trampoline for an hour, and I thought they would wake the dead.

Sarah’s taking piano lessons ( thankfully we finally have a keyboard with a connection for headphones!) and she’s pretty good about practicing. Both kids are about to begin baseball again. We are all greatly anticipating spring.

There’s a lot more, of course, but I’m doing good just to get anything in my poor little blog. Happy homeschooling, y’all!

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Ancient Civilizations: Chinese, Anyone? I Don’t Mayan If I Do!

Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Hey, I spend my days with a six and a nine-year-old, OK?

It’s been a busy three weeks as we continue our whirlwind tour of ancient civilizations. The curriculum called for us to spend a week on China, but we were enjoying it so much we stretched it out to two. The history of ancient China was fascinating. We read many books about the history and geography, the Great Wall and how it came to be (a rather brutal back story), customs, literature, inventions and achievements, and religions.

I was hesitant to study Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism with the kids. In the end, Caleb read about these, but I decided Sarah should wait. We’ll revisit this unit when she’s older. We also read about missionaries who went to China. Together we read Flight of the Fugitives, a children’s book about Gladys Aylward. I’d planned on reading a chapter a day, but it was such an exciting page-turner, the kids begged me to keep reading. We finished in two days, and we all wanted to know more. We have been reading from a terrific book calledHero Tales, stories about Christian heroes, many of whom have gone into the nations we’re studying in order to be missionaries. I can’t get over the kids’ response to these. They have shown such tender hearts (and believe me, there are times when I wonder) and they are fascinated. They have tons of questions and some pretty interesting ideas themselves. We also watched the movie Inn of the Sixth Happiness based on the stories about Gladys Aylward. It’s an old technicolor picture starring Ingrid Bergman. We thought they did a great job, but the book was better, of course.

We took one Monday off to see Rock City with Tim’s whole family. With our two and David’s six kids, we qualified for the home schooling discount! It was a beautiful day, and the leaves were at their most gorgeous. We got some great family photos:

The Bratchers at Rock City Nov 2007

We just finished up a week on Mesoamerica, mostly the Mayan culture (the Aztec history is an even more violent one – we’ll save that for later). Caleb was assigned two chapters a day from the bookThe Corn Grows Ripe, a fictional tale set in Mayan times, but he read the whole thing in a few hours. I’ve had to make sure I always have additional reading assignments for him. From our wonderful local library (and our second home) I found a neat video for kids about the Mayans. Caleb also made a board game based on one he read about in Step Into Aztec and Maya Worlds. The Mayan unit was fun, but it wasn’t the crowd-pleaser China was!


Caleb has finished with his cursive book and now writes almost exclusively in cursive. He has beautiful handwriting for a third grader, though his printing is a bit rough. I need to get him going on a typing program. Sarah Mae is still working through the Italics Method book and Explode the Code (she’s getting a little bored with it, but it’s working). I’ve begun assigning daily journal entries. I expected to face some resistance, but I was taken aback by how much they love these! They want to do this before anything else, and they prefer it when I give them a topic. I was going to alternate between free writing and dictation, but Tim thinks we should just let them write freely. Caleb likes for me to correct his mistakes, but I’m letting Sarah just write as she likes. Her spelling is pretty creative, but the point is communication. The goal is to allow her to express her thoughts without worrying if it’s “right”. Besides, I think this will provide me with potential spelling lists for both of them for months to come!

Sarah loves “Einglish”

Translation: “I like English. I like it because it has stories. What Story? This story.”

I’m already stumbling when they ask me for help with their math assignments! Daddy has them working with geometry concepts, and as first and third graders they are already learning about things I’ve never studied or have forgotten. Thankfully, Tim is happy to take math and science over completely!

Tim also finished Genesis with them and they have begun Exodus. He reads a chapter a day with them skipping some now and then, though when I have a corresponding history assignment, I’ll jump ahead with stories from Catherine Vos’ A Children’s Story Bible ( a treasure).

I brought home a book of Aesop’s Fables (great art and well written) from the library with a plan to read a few to Sarah, but Caleb loved them so much he read the whole thing to Sarah on his own. I was thrilled, and Sarah was so happy that Caleb actually wanted to read to her. When he does it of his own volition, he’s terrific, using a lot a variation in his pitch and tone, making up voices for characters. When  I make him read to her, he does the whole thing in a speedy monotone, which frustrates his sister (and his mom) to no end.

Other things we’ve worked on in no particular order: prepositions, diagramming direct objects and predicate nouns/adjectives, The Kite Rider, Chinese dragons, Robert Frost’s A Time to Talk, Mother Teresa, lapbooks, Pooh Corner, the months of the year and a “winter booklet”, practicing for Caleb’s first spelling bee which is coming up soon, and many Dr. Seuss books, which I’m thrilled to say Sarah is reading with greater fluency — and if I ever start to doubt my merits as a mother, I just remind myself how many times I have listened to “Go Dogs. Go!” and acted surprised by the ending (“A dog PARTY?!”)

I have to say, I love this. I love watching my kids change right before my eyes. They constantly surprise me. I surprise myself sometimes. Even the tough days generally lead us to something interesting. When I get with my other friends who home school, they know exactly what I mean. It’s so much more fun than I thought it would be.

Next stop: Ancient Greece! Olympics! Mythology! Gladiators! (Oh wait, I think that last one’s Rome. Guess I’ve got some reading to do.)

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School Schmool

One of the best parts of home schooling: When the day is like today, we can say,

“Let’s do school later. Or tomorrow. Everybody outside.”

part of our backyard

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